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Bahals and Bahis in Kathamandu
1. Itum Bahal
The long, rectangular courtyard of the Itum Bahal is the largest bahal (Buddhist monastery courtyard) in the old town and remains a haven of tranquillity in the chaotic surroundings. On the western side of the courtyard is the Kichandra Bahal, one of the oldest bahals in the city, dating from 1381. A chaitya in front of the entrance has been completely shattered by a Bodhi tree, which has grown right up through its centre.
On the northern side of the courtyard are four brass plaques mounted on the upper-storey wall. The one on the extreme left shows a demon known as Guru Mapa taking a misbehaving child from a woman and stuffing it greedily into his mouth. Eventually the demon was bought off with the promise of an annual feast of buffalo meat, and the plaque to the right shows him sitting down and dipping into a pot of food. With such a clear message on juvenile misbehaviour it is fitting that the courtyard for many years housed a primary school – right under the Guru Mapa plaques!
To this day, every year during the festival of Holi the inhabitants of Itum Bahal sacrifice a buffalo to Guru Mapa on the banks of the Vishnumati River, cook it in the afternoon in the courtyard and in the middle of the night carry it in huge cauldrons to a tree in the Tundikhel parade ground where the demon is said to live.
In autumn and winter the main square is decorated in ornate swirling patterns of drying grain.
2. Chusya Bahal
The Chusya Bahal, Kathmandu is the finest example of the Bahal architecture. The entrance of the place is flanked by two magnificent lions. There is also a Buddhist deity, Prajnaparamita which is portrayed at the top of the beautiful torana. The visit to Kathmandu will not be complete if the travelers do not visit this place.
The ground level of the buildings, all open to the court. There is a Mahakala shrine on the right hand side. There is also a Ganesha shrine. In the sunken court the visitors will come across traditional brick paving, which has been nicely preserved. The temple which is facing the entrance has got two storey. The top of the temple has got a very simple finial. The most noteworthy aspect of the entire structure is the magnificent roof struts that belong to the 14th century. The deities depicted are also named here. Inside the court one will come across two votive stupas. One of them has got the statue of Vajrasattva and the other one has got the image of Tara. On either side the visitors will find the two donors standing.
There are many open halls in the ground floor. At present these halls are used as a school. Presently the people are trying had to save this beautiful jewel of Malla architecture. Something should be done very fast so that this dilapidated but magnificent building can be saved from destruction.
The location The Chusya Bahal in Kathmandu can be reached comfortably by the tourists. The visitors must come to this place, while in Kathmandu. They will surely be captivated and enthralled by its beauty. The visit to the Chusya Bahal will definitely be remembered by all the tourists for a very long time.
At the junction of Durbar and Basantapur squares, this red-brick, three-storey building is home to the Kumari, the girl who is selected to be the town’s living goddess and a living symbol of devi – the Hindu concept of female spiritual energy. Inside the building is Kumari Chowk, a three-storey courtyard. It is enclosed by magnificently carved wooden balconies and windows, making it quite possibly the most beautiful courtyard in Nepal.
The Kumari generally shows her face between 9am and 11am. Photographing the goddess is forbidden, but you are quite free to photograph the courtyard when she is not present. In 2005 the Kumari went on strike, refusing to appear at her window for tourists, after authorities denied her guardians’ request for a 10% cut of Durbar Sq’s admission fees!
The building, in the style of the Buddhist vihara (monastic abodes) of the valley, was built in 1757 by Jaya Prakash Malla. The courtyard contains a miniature stupa carrying the symbols of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. Amazingly, the bahal escaped with only minor damage during the 2015 earthquake despite the destruction all around – a sign some Nepalis see as the Kumari's benign influence.
The large yellow gate to the right of the Kumari Bahal conceals the huge chariot that transports the Kumari around the city during the annual Indra Jatra festival. Look for the huge wooden runners with their sacred painted tips in front of the Kumari Bahal that are used to transport the chariot.
4. Jana bahal
Temple of Karunamaya at Jana Baha
Jana Bahal (Nepal Bhasa): often called Janabahaa: and also called Machindra Bahal and less frequently Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar, is one of the few Bahal which have fully fledged storied temple standing in the middle of a court. The main deity residing in the temple is the SetoMachindranath also known as JanabahaDyo, Aryavalokitesvara, Karunamaya.
Janabahal originally was known as “Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar”, but after deity of SetoMachindranath was mounted here the courtyard began to be referred as Jahabaha:. The name Kanak Chaitya Mahavihar is from a chaitya of Kanakmuni Buddha in front of the temple, situated in the courtyard. From this we can assume that the bahal was originally a place for Buddhists religious activities. It is said that Janabahaa: Dyo: dates back to 4th century BC but the temple at Janabahal was built by King Yaksha Malla in 1502 AD. It is also believed that kings who followed Buddhism erected the image of various Lokeswaras inside the courtyard.
Major Cultural Activities
Beside the main Jana Baha DyahJatra (chariot festival), the people, mostly Buddhists, visit and pray the SetoMachindranath deity. They count the beads tied in the thread or rotate the manes on the process of praying. Newar Buddhists perform uposadhavrata (a kind of fasting) every Ashtami by doing saptavidhanutarasatvapuja and by offering pate (parasol). They also perform satpuja during which, toncha, batti, prasad all is offered in equal quantity of 1000. In the premises of Kanak-Muni Buddha‟s chaitya, BareyChwiu is done for the young males of Buddhacharya, Shakya and Bajracharya caste. Newars often organizes the program of lighting the palas around the temple or lighting 108 diyos. This shrine is mainly visited on the day of Purnima, Ashtami and Sanlu (Sankranti) by the Hindus. The daily ritual of the temple starts from around 4 am by the priests
Buddhist Temple in Kathmandu
Hidden off the main road just north of Durbar Sq is a large open courtyard set around a central stupa that resembles a mini-Swayambhunath. Directly behind it is an old building, the Yatkha Bahal, whose upper storey is supported by four superb carved-wood struts. Dating from the 12th to 13th century, they are carved in the form of yaksha (attendant deities or nymphs), one of them gracefully balancing a baby on her hip.
Statue of Akshobhya at Kindo Baha
Kindo Baha, Kathmandu
Kindo Baha (Nepal Bhasa:), also known as KinnuBāhā, KindolBāhāl or KimdolBāhāl, is a vihara in Kathmandu which was the hub for the resurgence of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Center of activity
A batch of monks inspired by the Theravada movement in Asia rejuvenated a dilapidated monastery into a center of religious activity. Among the key figures who resided and taught at Kindo Baha and led the Theravada renaissance were monks DhammalokMahasthavir, PragyanandaMahasthavir and Kumar Kashyap Mahasthavir and nun DharmachariGuruma.AmritanandaMahasthavir was another influential figure at Kindo Baha whose discourses were much liked by the people.
Their sermons attracted large crowds to Kindo Baha, and the monastery became a center for religious teaching and publication of literature. A suspicious government did not like what the monks were doing, and kept them under constant surveillance. In 1926, five Buddhist monks had been exiled from Nepal for conversion and making alms rounds in Kathmandu.
The growing religious activities at Kindo Baha and the swelling congregation of the Newari faithful aroused the anger of the autocratic Rana regime. In 1944, the monks were hauled before the prime minister and ordered to stop preaching Buddhism and writing books in the Newar language. When they refused, eight monks were summarily expelled from the country.
The banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal spurred the Theravada movement. The monks first went to India and then scattered to Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Tibet and Burma. In exile, they devoted themselves to further religious studies, and also established an organization named Dharmodaya Sabha in Sarnath, India to propagate Buddhism and publish books.
In 1946, the expulsion order was withdrawn, and they returned to Nepal. The revolutionary days of Kindo Baha also came to an end as a new monastery came up. From 1947, Ananda KutiVihar, originally built as a small retreat by Dhammalok on the northern slope of Swayambhu hill, became the new center of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. After the Rana regime was overthrown in 1951, the monks could work more freely, and Theravada Buddhism spread rapidly.
Kindo Baha was built in 807 Nepal Sambat (1687 AD) by one Shakyabhiksu. The king of KathmanduParthivendra Malla attended the inauguration ceremony. The monastery's Sanskrit name is KirttanaMahavihara. Its popular name is derived from a holy man named Kindol who used to meditate at the site where the monastery stands. The present building dates from the 1920s when it was renovated at the initiative of Buddhist scholar and activist DharmadityaDharmacharya. The main image here is a statue of Buddha Akshobhya.
7. Te bahal
Unlike other Bahals of Kathmandu, Te Bahal has two dyochhes (house for gods) indicating the existence of two bahals which were later merged into one.
Legend / History
Wright’s chronicle credits the Licchavi king Narendradeva with the building of a baha here for his guru and setting up the shrine of Sankata. Narendradeva built a bihar near Lomri-devi, whom Bandhudatta Acharya had brought and placed there for the protection of the country. After naming it Tirtha, because the Acharya came from Tirtha, he gave it to the spiritual guide of his father. He had three sons, the eldest of whom was named Padma-deva, the second Ratna-deva, and the youngest Bar-deva. The Raja sent the eldest to become a bandya in the Pingala Bahal, where there were at one time six hundred bandyas. The second, he put under the guidance of Bandhudatta in the Tirtha Bihar. The third was appointed as Raja.
Bandhudatta placed Padmantaka (Sankata) in the Tirtha-bahal, and then brought ten Krodha-devatas, or avenging deities, from Kamuni, and also placed them there, along with Asta-pithas and Astasmashans. At the north-east corner of the Tirtha-Bahal he placed Mahakal, whom he brought from Bhot (Tibet). Having thus placed gods on all the ten sides, the Raja and Acharya lived happily. This attribution of the foundation to Narendradeva may refer only to the Bandhudatta Baha. If it intends to indicate the foundation of Te Baha itself, it does not correspond to the evidence we have.
Coming to dated evidence, there are seven ‘Lichhavi’ chaityas within the compound of Te Baha and one outside. There are two Licchavi inscriptions at Te Baha. The first is near the main entrance. At the present time it serves as a pedestal for an image of Surya. The inscription dated in the year 402 (Saka Sambat A.D. 480-81), says that one Guha Mitra, a leader of a trading caravan, set up an image of Surya in this year. The second inscription located on the southern wall of the compound on the remains of a water spout is undated but on the basis of the epigraphy has been dated to the period between the two kings Amsuvarma and Narendradeva, i.e. A.D. 640-642. The inscription says that one Sakya by the name of Priyapala, invoking the Three Jewels, set up this water tap for the use of all living beings in order to obtain blessings for his parents. Neither of these inscriptions gives us any information about the present institution of Te Baha, but the second gives an indication of definite Buddhist connections by the middle of the seventh century A.D.
There is, however, an early medieval reference to this baha. There is a Vajracharya crown inscribed with the following verse.
On Friday, the fifth of the bright half of Bhadrapada, Nepal Sambat 265 (i.e. A.D. 1145), (during the reign of) King Sri Narendradeva, (this) crown, beautified by the five Buddhas and decorated with gems was consecrated by SrimatSivadeva. The craftsman was BhiksuBhaskara Gupta.
The authenticity of this reference is confirmed by the fact that the reign of a kind by the name of Narendradeva from at least A.D. 1134-45 is confirmed by other sources, and the name Tedo Vihara is confirmed by other later reference, some of them within the baha complex. Besides giving us an early medieval date for this baha, the inscription has a number of interesting points. The Sanskrit name of the baha. The inscription has a number of interesting points. The Sanskrit name of the baha is usually given now as Rajakriti, which would indicate that it was founded by or in honour of a kind to the glory of the king. Local oral tradition usually says that the kind in question is Gunakamadeva. RatnaKajiVajracharya speculates that it was either Dharmadeva or Amsuverma, but it is clear form this inscription that a much earlier tradition attributed its foundation to Sivadeva. This is alsoone of the earliest dated reference to a Vajracharya in connection with a still existing foundation.
The next historical record is the inscription on the Surya image in the centre of the complex. It was erected in the year N.S. 582 and gives the name of the place as Tedo Vihara and the reigning king as Yaksa Malla. There is a palm leaf land deed recording the gift of a field or garden by Hrdaya Raj Bharo to TejaThakali of TedoVahara in the year N.S. 583. In the year N.S. 640, during the reign of Ratna Malla another image of Surya was donated and thi inscription givens the first reference to the current Sanskrit name of the baha, Sri RajakirtiMahabihara. An inscription at the Sankata shrine records repairs made in the year N.S. 836 during the reign of Mahindra (Bhaskara) Malla. The baha is referred to as Sri RajakritiMahabihara. Two manuscripts, one a copy of the Kalpasangraha, and the second a copy of the Jnansiddhi were copied in the year N.S. 948 by one VajracharyaSiddhinanda of RajakirtiMahavihar in Kantipur.
Kwa Bahal is a golden masterpiece that is a famous sight seeing destination in the Nepal city. It is also known as the golden temple as it has gilded metal plates that cover major part of its frontage. Dedicated to Lord Buddha also known as Lokeswar, the pagoda brings forth phenomenal woodwork, chasing techniques and Repoussé. The upper level of this religious place has a magnificent gold hued statue of eight armed Lord Buddha with a huge prayer wheel. In case you come via the eastern entrance then you can come across the attraction lion statues that were the signature trademark of the Krishnabir who used to be an ace stone mason. He sculpted the main entrance of the Kwa Bahal with exquisite friezes of the Buddhist deities.
Historical Context: Kwa Bahal is believed to have been founded in the 12th century and it has remained in its current form ever since 1409.
Pro Tip: Do look for the tortoises that potter around the compound of the Kwa Bahal.
The beautiful Buddhist courtyards of Patan in the Kathmandu Valley
The three main cities of the Kathmandu Valley–Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur–are best known for their Durbar Squares, filled with monumental temples and shrines to Hindu deities, constructed by the Malla kings of the the tree cities. The Mallas were Hindu kings, who had first come as refugees to the valley in the 13th century CE. Over the centuries they built up a formidable kingdom, while ruling over their predominantly Buddhist subjects, the Newars.
The Newars have been prolific traders and master craftsmen for over a thousand years. Their trading activities brought them into close contact with both the Gangetic Plains of north and eastern India as well as the Tibetan Plateau and the Silk Route in China. Their culture has been predominantly Indian and the Newars have historically been mostly Mahayana Buddhist in their religious orientation. During the great flowering of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in eastern India under the Pala kings of Bengal and Bihar between the 8th and the 13th centuries, the Newars were important participants in an international Buddhist culture centred around Nalanda and Bodh Gaya. Many learned pandits and monks travelled between the Kathmandu Valley and India, and later they were instrumental in the conversion of Tibet to Indian Buddhism as well.
With the sudden demise of Indian Buddhism in the 13th century CE, many Indian monks and pandits moved to the valley, carrying with them precious manuscripts, works of Buddhist art and the tradition of tantric Buddhism. These traditions continued to exist in the valley, and indeed, still do, making the Newar community the only Buddhists in the whole world whose religious texts and practices are still in Sanskrit.
Over the centuries, Patan or Lalitpur (as it's called in the valley), has remained the most Buddhist of the three cities, and beyond the major tourist draw of the Patan Durbar Square lie the community viharas (called Baha in Newari) and courtyards where the Newars live. Today you'll find Newars in all walks of Nepali life, though they retain their millennia-old reputation of being master artists. Artists' workshops and ateliers lie all around town, as do shops and emporia selling some of the finest Buddhist art you will find anywhere. Take a walk with us into the magical Buddhist courtyards of Patan.
A view of the magnificent Patan Durbar Square as it was before the devastation caused by the 2015 earthquake
A stone's throw away from the Durbar Square are the Buddhist courtyards of the Mangah neighbourhood. Most of them have a common space surrounded by houses. The courtyards are secular spaces, but they also function as the immediate sacred site for the people of the neighbourhood, so you will find stupas, three-dimensional mandalas and the sacred vajra, along with a shrine to the Buddha in even the most basic courtyard
Stupas or chaityas come in many sizes and designs in Patan. This one watches over a courtyard that was affected by the 2015 earthquake
The bigger courtyards are, of course, the ones that are home to the big monasteries or bahas. These are entirely religious spaces, with multiple shrines and temples enclosed within. This is the ornate entrance to the biggest monastery in Patan, the Kwa Baha. Its Sanskrit name is HiranyavarnaMahavihar, and its popularly known to tourists as the Golden Temple
Kwa Baha has Patan's largest sangha or Buddhist community attached to it. As a result, it is also the wealthiest vihara in Patan. It gets its golden sheen from donations over the centuries, with many Hindus too acting as doners to obtain merit. The vihar traces its antecedents to the 12th century, when it was built in the neighbourhood of Nag Bahal near the Durbar Square. In the picture is the sacred Swayambhu Chaitya which also houses many invaluable works of sacred art, quite predictably, made of gold. Behind it is the huge shrine to the main deity of the monastery, the KwapahDyah or Sakyamuni Buddha. This is the main exoteric deity of the vihara, open to all who come here. The secret tantric shrine, which can only be visited by the tantric Buddhist priests, the Vajracharyas, is located on an upper floor. All viharas are in the form of a three-dimensional mandala .
The Newars are masters of repoussé¡·ork, especially when working with gold. This gorgeous artwork at the top of one of the toranas or doors of the Swayambhu chaitya is proof of their mastery
At the Kwa Baha, you will find depictions of 12 forms of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara, including this one, Nrityeshwar. Avalokiteshwara is the most important deity of Patan, and maybe even the entire Kathmandu Valley. The cult of Karunamaya or RaktaLokeshwara is the basis of the biggest religious festival of Patan, the KarunamayaRath Yatra. Hindus identify Karunamaya with the Saiva siddha Macchendranath
There are two main aratis during the day, usually at 6 am and 6 pm. These are usually peaceful affairs, with members of the community chanting sacred texts like the Namasamgiti in the form of kirtans. Here, an evening arati is in front of the main shrine of the Kwa Baha.
The oldest historical vihara in Patan is the Uku Baha, or the RudravarnaMahavihar, which was built in Patan by a Thakuri king called Sivadeva. While some scholars claim this was as far back as the 6th century CE, Uku Baha has certainly been a major and flourishing monastery since at least the 11th century.
Not all sacred courtyards house a monastery, however. Take the Mahabaudha for example. This magnificent brick temple was built in 1564 by Abhaya Raj Sakya, and it's modelled on the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, which Abhaya Raj had visitied on pilgrimage.
The Sakya god guardian of Mahabaudha lights lamps before the evening Arati.
A girl drops in for a quick prayer at the Tanga Baha or the Jyeshthavarna Mahavihar near the Mangah market. Another old monastic courtyard, this is a popular meeting spot for local Newars.
Small chaityas in residential courtyards abound, like this one near the Durbar Square. In Patan, heritage exists side by side with lived spaces, and you'd often find locals chatting over a cup of tea beside gorgeous old structures
Many of the bigger monastic courtyards are also home to kirtan guthis or groups. Members of the group congregate here during the day for performances of devotional Buddhist songs. This one is at Bu Baha or the Yashodhara Mahavihar.
An intricately carved chaitya representing the Pancha Tathagata or the 5 Buddhas at Guji Baha or the VaishravanaMahavihar. They form the cornerstone of Vajrayana practice in the valley. The other two ever-present structures in a monastic courtyard is the vajra and the the three-dimensional Vajradhatu Mandala, as you can see here.
An ever-present sound in the courtyard is the tinkering and hammering produced by artisan guilds, like this one at the Guji Baha. Newar craftsmen work in these small ateliers to produce beautiful statues that are then sold all over the world. One of the most famous historical Newari figures is the legendary sculptor Araniko. He became Kublai Khan's court artist and provided a vital link between the art traditions of India and China.
A sculptor works on his unfinished statue of the tantric Buddhist goddess Vajrayogini at a small atelier in the courtyard of Nagu Baha, or RupbarnaMahavihar
An art shop display window in Patan